Boston tragedy a sobering lesson on fragility of life

heather    April 15 may no longer be viewed solely as tax day in light of the recent events in Boston. We can look back on that week as one of not only horror, but also with a sense of fragility.
    In the midst of the week’s horrible events – the Boston Marathon tragedy, the fertilizer plant explosion in West Texas, and the ricin-laced letters sent to President Obama, a senator and a judge – we are reminded of the fragility of our lives and the overwhelming sense of just how out of control life can be.
    As I walked into my classroom to teach on Tuesday morning, I looked at the whiteboard and saw the opening lines of Dante’s “Inferno.” What struck me most was the capability of those lines, written in the 14th century, to strike home in light of the Boston tragedy.
    “Midway in the journey of our life/ I came to myself in a dark wood,/ for the straight way was lost./ Oh, how hard it is to tell/ the nature of that wood, savage, dense, and harsh –/ the very thought of it renews my fear!”
    With these lines, Dante opens the first part of his epic poem, “The Divine Comedy,” and in these lines, Dante describes his fictional self: a self that is mired by darkness and sin, a self that has fallen from the “straight” path. In his terror and confusion over living a life of sin, the “dark wood,” Dante travels through hell and purgatory, guided by truth and reason by the Christ-like figure of Beatrice, before finally meeting Christ.
    Thinking about those lines, I was able to see that we are all like Dante, traveling on our life’s journey, trying to stay on the straight path, but sometimes slipping and becoming tangled in the chaos of the dark wood.
    With the tragedy and chaos of the week’s events, we clearly see that we are not alone in the dark wood: terror and tragedy hit without warning, bringing total chaos and fear into the hearts of everyone. Just like with 9/11, the bombings at the Boston Marathon were not confined solely to the people of Boston but affected all people.
    Americans are left questioning: Are we safe? Can this happen to us, in our city, in our town, on our streets?
    In the face of such disarray, we can really see the “savage, dense and harsh” nature of the wood that Dante describes, for this wood is an allegorical place where we recognize our sinful ways and begin to make repentance. In the light of tragic events, we tend to realize our humanity and see just how quickly our lives could end.
    It is this terror and hopelessness that Americans have felt since April 15 that Dante evokes in these opening lines. But most importantly, it is this fear that compels him to return to the “straight” way, to seek forgiveness and repent for his sins as he journeys toward truth.
    We, too, find ourselves at crossroads in our lives. Perhaps this week of terror and chaos brought about crises within our own lives and brought about crossroads in our own journeys. As each of the chaotic events unfolded, we all had the feeling of questioning when it would be over and came to the realization that we had no control.
    But that realization should bring about joy, as we realize that God is in control, and that we must put our faith and trust in him. If these events have taught us how resilient Americans can be in the face of terror, expressing solidarity with one another, perhaps we should also look at the resilience of our faith.
    How many of us turned to God? Turned to prayer? That, perhaps, is the truest test of all: In the weakest points of our lives, to whom shall we go? As we continue our journey in the dark wood, we must try to stay upon the “straight” way, guided by truth, for we never know when our journey will reach its end.
    Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at hbozantwitcher@clarionherald.org.

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